Yes, skiing can be an incredibly expensive sport. (See: one-day lift passes in excess of $100.) No, skiing doesn’t have to be an incredibly expensive sport. (See: cheap and freebie promotions below.)
Every season, North American ski resorts roll out special lodging packages that include free or discounted lift passes, especially during slower midweek periods. Sites such as Liftopia are also great resources for skiers and boarders hunting for discounted lift passes, provided they can commit to dates in advance (such passes are usually nonrefundable). But here are a few ski deals for the upcoming season that blow away the usual discounts:
Free Skiing for Kids
The ski associations in mountain states such as Colorado, Idaho, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Utah all offer some variation of a “ski passport” program for school-age kids. Each state’s program is a little different, but the typical passport requires a modest processing fee (say $10) and proof that the child is in fifth grade (sometimes, fourth- and sixth-graders are OK too). After the proper paperwork is completed, the child will receive a pass good for free skiing throughout the season. In some states, it’s totally unlimited; elsewhere, kids are limited to three free days at each participating resort. In most cases, the child skiing or riding for free must be accompanied by a paying adult.
Free Skiing for California Residents
This season at Eagle Point Resort in Utah, there’s a big push on to attract skiers and boarders from the Golden State. Anyone with a California ID is welcomed to unlimited free skiing and riding for the entirety of the 2012-2013 season. No strings attached: Show an ID, get a free lift ticket. The resort is hoping to generate long-term interest among out-of-staters, and also make some money on visitors with increased sales of food, beverages, and hotel stays. Eagle Point is also giving free lift tickets to all skiers and riders, no matter which state they call home, every Thursday in January.
Free Skiing for Flying into Utah
With the Quick START program (stands for: Ski Today And Ride Today), all airline passengers who fly into Salt Lake City, Utah, are entitled to a free lift ticket on the day of travel at Park City Mountain, Deer Valley, or the Canyons Resort. Advanced registration is necessary, as is a copy of an airline boarding pass. The other key bit of fine print is that the offer is blacked out during peak ski periods, including the two weeks around Christmas. Again, the free pass is only valid on the day you fly, so to get the most out of the offer, catch a flight first thing in the morning. Park City is just a 35-mile drive from the airport.
Ski and Snowboard Month
January is Ski and Snowboard Month, when resorts around the country offer special promotions to entice skiers and boarders out to the mountain—novices especially. Look for beginner packages that include a lift ticket, equipment rental, and a lesson for one low price, or even, in the case of New Hampshire, at no cost whatsoever.
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Of course, if you plan on skiing a ton at any single resort, a season pass is the best value. For those who can’t log in dozens of days on the hill, a multi-day pack of lift passes purchased in advance may be worth considering. Examples include the Ski Loveland 4-Pak, which runs $129 and covers four days of skiing anytime throughout the season at the Colorado resort; the $149 Winter Park Four Pass (four days’ skiing at Colorado’s Winter Park and Mary Jane); and the Lake Tahoe Six-Pack for $299, which covers six days of skiing at a choice of seven Tahoe-area resorts—and which is a better deal than it sounds like, considering that a one-day pass in the area can cost around $80.